Sacramento, CA – The California Pan-Ethnic Health Network released the following statement from Kiran Savage-Sangwan, executive director, after the announcement of a Congressional stimulus package:
“After months of waiting and stalled negotiations, Congress has finally agreed to a deal that will bring some relief to families and those hardest hit by COVID-19. This additional relief cannot come soon enough for the millions of Californians and Americans struggling with the impacts of the pandemic, job losses, school closures, and more that have devastated our communities. More than 300,000 Americans have died from the virus, 327,600 Californians stopped seeking employment, and four of five regions in California are under lockdown with ICU capacity slipping below 15%.
“The $900 billion package includes: a $300 boost in weekly unemployment benefits for 11 weeks through March 14, $600 relief checks for adults and children, more than $300 billion for small business aid and critical funding for schools, hospitals and equitable vaccine distribution, with particular support for low-income communities, communities of color, and other people who have been disproportionately impacted by the virus.
“The deal also addresses a decades long legislative error that barred ‘tens of thousands of Marshall Islanders’ and federal health benefits. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, with the worst of the disparities likely being obscured by lack of disaggregated data. We urge Congress to make this urgent fix and address one more piece of the equity puzzle. Of additional importance, this final deal ends the outrageous practice of surprise medical bills. Families no longer need to fear financial ruin when accessing needed health care services.
“While far less than the $2 trillion initially proposed by Democrats in the HEROES act, the funding for COVID relief, including vaccine distribution is much needed to ensure we are prioritizing frontline and essential workers, as well as those hardest hit by the virus. We are pleased to see funding for community-based organizations to do cultural and linguistically competent outreach and education about the safety of the vaccine, and where and how to receive it. As a vaccine becomes more widely available, the state will need to go above and beyond to rebuild trust with communities of color after decades of medical experimentation and mistrust.
“We are also pleased to see funding for schools, housing, safety-net providers and food. But with no direct state aid, California is largely left to fend for itself as our deficit mounts and we are faced with difficult decisions between refilling reserves and undoing cuts to universities, courts, affordable-housing grants and state worker pay earlier this year.
“Ahead of the Governor’s January 10th deadline to pass a balanced budget, we urge him to focus on centering equity in ensuring communities of color hardest hit by the pandemic and its financial and mental toll. Our vaccine distribution must come with additional supports such as anti-eviction protections, food assistance, and resources to help those quarantining to do so safely and without fear of losing their jobs. We must also prioritize continuing to expand health care access and quality, as California leads the way on making sure everyone, regardless of immigration status, is covered.”